Anthrax requests prompt security fears

Unauthorised people have tried to acquire anthrax bacteria from Gothenburg University on at least two occasions, according to a report from the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI).

As recently as last year there was an order from a PO box address in Amman from somebody who wanted a number of strains of the bacteria. Sweden’s security police, Säpo, was brought in to investigate.

Dagens Medicin has reported that both incidents were hushed up and never became public knowledge. But in the report from FOI, which was commissioned by the Swedish Emergency Management Agency, the two attempts are described.

“The problem with biological materials is that so little is needed to make a great impact,” said Björn Sandström, one of the report’s authors, to Dagens Medicin.

“It’s just a question of smuggling out a small sample and cultivating the bacteria in a laboratory.”

After the September 11th attacks in the US, routines around the storage and supply of biological materials has been tightened. But security procedures are not as well-established in universities as they are within public authorities and businesses.

“Researchers are traditionally concerned about their freedom. Awareness has increased but there are certainly failings which could be put right,” said Björn Sandström.